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Thriller Fiction Speculative

The corridors of the Capital City Museum were draped in darkness. They were an endless labyrinth of stone pillars, statues, and paintings by long-forgotten artists without living descendants. Occasional strobe-like light illuminated the depths. Johnathan assumed the latest flash was lightning as he turned down another cavernous hallway. He investigated every surface, every signpost, and every restroom for an indication of an exit or human life. Instead, all he found was more emptiness that felt as dead as the taxidermy wildlife that haunted the room he now found himself in.

               ‘Hello,’ he shouted into the void. The brief hope that someone might be replying vanished as he realised there was an echo. ‘Security? Anyone? Please, I got lost at closing time and can’t find the exit.’ He hoped the plea for help might finally get noticed since this area was new. Until this point, he had wandered the same halls despite numerous attempts to turn left where he had previously turned right. It was always the same art that was disturbing enough by day, let alone in the stillness of night. Now that he was standing toe to toe with a long-dead sabre, tooth tiger, he hoped he might finally be on a different path.

               He moved through the natural history exhibit like he was trying not to make noise in a library. There was just something about being alone with the dead that awoke a sense of respect in him. So, he shuffled gently toward the far end of the room, where he could make out a faintly illuminated exit sign—yet another omen that meant he was back on track. This renewed hope put a slight spring in his step, and he ceased being so weary of his noise pollution.

               As he found himself bathed in the soft lime-coloured light of the sign, he was faced with a choice—the same one that had plagued him since this predicament began: Left or right? Left. He glided down the unfamiliar avenue like he was out for a morning powerwalk.

Surely, this must be the way out, he thought to himself.

This was further evidenced by a wave of fresh, non-air-conditioned air that washed over him. Not to mention numerous red arrows painted into the walls. The first signs of the outside world, or direction, he had experienced in hours. However, as he reached the next intersection, he felt his good mood fade.

               Johnathan’s eyeline was now level with the familiar gentles of a ten-foot-tall limestone statue. He never thought seeing the same private parts multiple times in one evening would be so disappointing. Yet here he was, forced to come to terms with the fact that he had been turned around once again. This time, it crushed his motivation to keep going. He found a plush-looking bench welcoming him from the far side of the hall. He flopped onto it like falling into bed after a long day.

More lightning bled through the windows that lined the unreachable ceiling. This time, it was accompanied by a clap that sounded like something was being demolished, not just thunder. He sat upright as his fight-or-flight instincts kicked in. He anxiously scanned the room to ensure there was no immediate danger. Once the shock subsided, he sighed and leaned against the cold stone wall. It was a sigh of total defeat. A feeling that was interrupted by the thought, shit, do I have service now?

               Since entering the museum, his phone had struggled to find a network connection. Johnathan arched backward as he reached deep into the pockets of his jeans, trying to find it. The illumination from its tiny screen temporarily blinded him. He had not been exposed to such bright light for a while.

The disappointment returned as he noticed a big red cross where the signal bars should be. That would not stop him from trying to get a message out. He punched in his PIN code to unlock the device and thumbed away the last browser window he had open. It was yet another sensationalist news story trying to scare people into thinking some neighbouring nation was about to invade. He had hated himself for being tempted by such obvious clickbait.

He replaced the article with his messaging app. A list of recent texts from family and friends greeted him, including his last conversation with his girlfriend, who had been too sick to join him at the museum. He was taken aback by the fact he had not noticed her missed calls or unread messages.

               ‘How the hell did I not notice these?’ Johnathan asked himself. He decided that talking to himself was far from the worst thing he could do now.

               He opened the message from Stacey and read it out to himself, “Babe, this shit is getting real. Please call me back as soon as you get this.” He scratched his head and read the message ten more times. To the point where he was staring at the screen and no longer consuming the words. ‘What on Earth is she going on about?’ He asked no one in particular. Despite knowing that Stacey was prone to over-exaggeration, Johnathan felt increasing discomfort from her text. So, he decided to try to call her.

               Typically, there would be dial tones or a recorded message about the number being unreachable. On this occasion, all he got was the crisp sound of silence. Something he had become used to since getting trapped in the city museum. Another wave of lightning and horrifying thunder ripped through the halls. The naked statues swayed from its intensity, and Johnathan bolted towards the closest one to stabilise it. He was not about to let a priceless artifact fall to its doom. At least now he was standing, so he resumed his freedom search.

               Twenty meters down the corridor, he came across a door he had not noticed before. Glancing above its frame, he saw golden letters set upon a rouge fabric background.

The History of War

               Shit, I actually wanted to see this, he thought gleefully to himself. And since finding the exit would now mean getting drenched in the rain, he figured he might as well indulge.

               The exhibit felt far more claustrophobic than any other space he had experienced in the museum.  Johnathan was not short, and his head almost brushed the ceiling in some areas. The rest of the building had vast marble walls covered with single pieces of abstract expressionism. In here, there were tiny glass coffins filled with bloodied weapons used to wipe out thousands, if not millions. Some cabinets contained mannequins dressed in military outfits of the past. Each one trying to murder the other in the name of some leader, country, or faith. The macabre imagery might make some people's stomach churn. Not Johnathan, though; he had always had an interest in the history of warfare. Even the ancient examples he was currently viewing. But what he wanted to see was the devastation of modern warfare.

               He rounded a corner and walked past a miniature recreation of the trenches from the First World War. Finally, he found what he was looking for. The room opened into a large space that felt like an aircraft hangar. Crimson flags draped the solid black walls titled “The Last 100 Years of War”. Johnathan looked in awe at the older fighter planes that hung from the ceiling. They looked like they could still wreak havoc in the skies today. Beyond them were the more recent and terrifying stealth bombers. Blending into the darkness, true to their name. Johnathan could make out the sharp bat-like wings on either side of its cockpit. It looked menacing even though it was devoid of power. He felt the rhythmic banging from the storm raging outside was reminiscent of the destruction the flying beast was capable of.

               Johnathan stopped to read information recorded onto a jigsaw puzzle of plaques about the atomic bomb. Beyond that was a small corridor he could have almost blinked and missed. A small sign hung on a chain above its entrance titled, “Nations Invading Nations”.

               Why not? He thought to himself as he slipped down the narrow trench.

               As he entered, yet another storm disturbance shook the building to its core. The shock was so strong that the planes Johnathan had admired earlier swayed gently on the metal wires holding them in place. Once that brief chaos settled, their gentle creek was all that could be heard. And then everything went dark.

               A generator somewhere kicked in, and thumbtack-sized emergency lights sprung to life. They provided enough light for Johnathan to make out the photos and information on the walls in the narrow hall he had entered. He continued to make his way through it, reading examples of nations that had either fully or partially fallen to one of their neighbours.

               North and South Korea, Iraq and Kuwait, Vietnam and Cambodia, Turkey and Cyprus, Russia and Ukraine. It was a list of years and names that stretched on like a shopping list of death. Some were marked with a small dot to indicate that the invaded country had never fully regained its original identity. Pictures of killing fields, mass graves, and crying mothers accompanied others. Johnathan started to feel less fascinated with the history of war as reality sank in. Still, he moved deeper into the hidden maze that threatened to get him even more lost.

               Fortunately, he emerged from the other end into a very promising location. Stacks of books, mugs, tea towels and unusual kid's toys lined shelves in a somewhat disorderly fashion.

               Finally, he thought. The gift shop. Surely, this must be near the exit.

               He moved through the displays and caught his first glimpse of the outside of the world. The far end of the gift shop was blessed with floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over the man-made waterways of the capital city. Usually, Johnathan should be able to see the entire city skyline up to the central capital buildings. But something was different. The same dark feeling that had followed Johnathan through the museum also seemed to exist outside.

               “What the fuck?” Johnathan exclaimed.      

               He looked high and low for signs of light or life, questions flooding his mind, like, what was Stacey talking about? Why did the museum empty out so fast? What the hell is going on? He reached for his phone and breathed a sigh of relief at the single bar of service blinking in and out of existence. As he unlocked the screen, a single message appeared from Stacey.

               Get to safety. I love you.

               Before he could even think of what to say in reply, the city skyline erupted in a ball of flame. Explosions ripped across everything in Johnathan’s field of vision, like the nightmare images he had observed in the war exhibit. What looked like jet fighters zipped through the sky like birds of prey on a hunt, and they were getting closer.

               The raging chaos inched toward the museum, but then it seemed to move in the opposite direction. It was as if whomever or whatever was attacking the capital was a sentient beast that could not decide what it wanted to consume. Johnathan took a slight step backward and did the only thing he could: He turned around and walked right back into the museum. 

March 18, 2024 06:59

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1 comment

Paul Simpkin
16:45 Mar 28, 2024

I enjoyed reading your story. It is a clever idea and I kept reading as I wanted to find out what happened at the end.


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